It just isn’t official.
Means held the Braves to one run and two hits tonight in four innings, with no walks and four strikeouts. He’s allowed two runs and four hits with eight strikeouts in his last two appearances covering eight innings.
Putting him on the mound every fifth day aligns him to pitch on April 1 against the Red Sox at Fenway Park to begin the 2021 season.
Means keeps dealing, and he increased his pitch count tonight by throwing in the bullpen before returning to the clubhouse in a 5-2 win over the Braves at Ed Smith Stadium.
“I thought the fastball-changeup combination was good. I thought I was getting ahead, attacking the zone, and I felt in rhythm,” he said in a Zoom call.
“I think my body’s recovering well, my arm feels good, everything’s recovering for the most part. Still probably need to throw a little bit more breaking balls, but other than that, I feel really good.”
The Braves radio broadcasters marveled at his stuff and quick pace, how there was no wasted motion as he stood pointed toward first base holding the ball and waiting for the sign. As if “playing a game of catch.”
Félix Hernández had bad body language yesterday, leading manager Brandon Hyde to assume there was a physical issue. The discussion on the Atlanta booth tonight included a quick interpretation of Mean’s body language.
“Ok, let’s go.”
As the discussion continued, Ozzie Albies drove a ball off the top of a palm tree in left field for a 1-0 lead and Travis d’Arnaud singled. But that was the extent of the damage.
Means cruised through the first inning, getting Ronald Acuña Jr. to ground out and Albies to fly out and striking out d’Arnaud. He remained in control in the second, again retiring the side in order and striking out Austin Riley and Cristian Pache. Three up, three down in the third on a grounder and two fly balls.
Ten in a row before the home run.
“Today he was really good,” shortstop Freddy Galvis said of Means in his Zoom call. “He was commanding his pitches, his fastball was pretty good, the changeup was really good. The main thing is he threw strikes and when you throw strikes, and you have that repertoire, you have a pretty good chance to win the game. So that’s what he did today and that’s the result right there.”
Means, who said he never looks at exhibition numbers because spring training is “for working on the whole repertoire,” has two more Grapefruit League starts before heading north. What’s he hopes to accomplish?
“Just building the pitch count, building that up and just working on staying in my body, staying healthy and just work on everything,” he said. “Like I said before, probably throw a few more breaking balls, but other than that everything feels good.”
So when is it no longer too soon to ask about the Orioles’ opening day starter?
“Friday, we’ll announce it,” Hyde said on his Zoom call.
The delay is extended only because the Orioles are off Thursday.
Austin Hays had a double and single off Braves starter Charlie Morton, and he scored the tying run in the fifth on Cedric Mullins’ left-versus-left sacrifice fly off Sean Newcomb. A passed ball moved Hays to third base.
Hays doubled again off Huascar Ynoa in a four-run sixth, giving him two RBIs and the Orioles a 4-1 lead. Pinch-runner Terrin Vavra came home on a passed ball.
Hays is 10-for-27 (.370) with two doubles, two home runs, six RBIs and a 1.100 OPS.
Mountcastle threw out Ender Inciarte going first to third on Pablo Sandoval’s single in the fifth. An inning with Tanner Scott’s fastball hitting 100 mph, per the stadium gun.
Paul Fry tossed 1 2/3 scoreless innings, walking two batters in the sixth but lowering his ERA to 16.88 in 5 1/3 innings.
An in-game Zoom also allowed Galvis to talk about his former Phillies teammate Maikel Franco, who’s joined him in Sarasota after signing a one-year contract.
“We are really good friends,” he said. “I saw him since he was, I don’t know, 16 years old when he came to the organization with the Phillies. I think the Orioles, they’re getting a really good player. He has a pretty good arm. He can hit (with) some pop, he can hit for average, too. A lot of innings, for sure. And he can play defense.
“I see him before and he’s a really good player.”